Bankruptcy is governed by the U.S. bankruptcy code. Every state, including California, has bankruptcy courts located throughout the state. In most cases involving personal debt, you will file for either Chapter 7 or Chapter 13. Chapter 7 allows you to eliminate all eligible debt if you qualify, and Chapter 13 allows you to repay creditors over time in a court-approved payment plan.
Attend a credit counseling class. Before you file for bankruptcy, you must receive credit counseling from a course approved by the U.S. trustee within 180 days of filing. You can complete the course online, over the telephone or in-person. Upon completion, you will receive a certificate of completion.
Complete a petition package. The package contains every form needed to file for Chapter 7 or Chapter 13. The main document, the petition, initiates the bankruptcy case. Other forms in the package include Schedules A, B and C (personal and real property), Schedules D, E and F (debts) and Schedule I, which documents your income. In all, a package contains approximately 30 forms.
File the petition package with the California bankruptcy court in your area. You only need to submit one original copy of the petition and schedules with the bankruptcy court. If you desire, you may request that the court stamp another copy with the word "filed" and keep this for your records. You can file the documents in-person at the court or by mail. Electronic filing is not an option for debtors; it is a method only attorneys may use. Along with filing the petition package, also file your certificate of completion of credit counseling.
Pay the filing fee. You may pay the fee with cash, a money order or a cashier's check. The money order or cashier's check must be made out as follows: Pay to the Order of the United States Bankruptcy Court. The court does not accept personal checks. At the time of publication, the filing fee for a Chapter 7 bankruptcy is $299, and it's $274 for Chapter 13. If you are filing for Chapter 13, you must pay the entire fee in one lump sum. However, if you are filing for Chapter 7, the court may waive the fee or allow you to make installment payments if your income is less than 150 percent of the federal poverty line. You must complete a Fee Installments and Fee Waiver Application.